In Luke 9, Jesus sent out the ‘Twelve’ apostles in a mission to proclaim the gospel exclusively to the Galilean Jews. In today’s reading, he sends out ‘Seventy-Two’ (or Seventy) others to cover a wider territory, that included Samaritans and Gentiles. Significantly, the ‘Table of Nations’ in Genesis 10 has 72 names in the Greek translation and 70 names in Hebrew! Again, the disciples went in pairs, found a peace-loving home to stay in and used it as a base to work the good news of the Kingdom into the surrounding community. There was a real sense of urgency in Jesus’ voice: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (v2). Dare to pray that prayer and, I assure you, you will become part of its answer!
The purpose of the mission was to prepare people’s hearts for Christ to follow on shortly afterwards – rather like today, then! Healing the sick and expelling demons was an integral part of the message (the ‘proof of the pudding’) and gifts that we must, by all means, rediscover today. We then tell people that the Kingdom is coming, since the King is coming. If they reject us, they are rejecting Him.
The trip was a massive success, full of supernatural manifestation, and so the Seventy-Two returned on a ‘high’! Jesus made two ‘telling’ points: By these acts of supernatural power, Satan had been dethroned: have a look at Revelation 12:7-12 and especially “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray…” (12:9). Confirming this, Jesus assured them (and us) that “I have given you authority… to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (v19). Jesus’ second point was our eternal salvation was much more important than our spiritual power on earth, and so a better and more enduring thing to celebrate.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is the most well-known of all Jesus’ stories with meaning. It was deliberately aimed at shocking and offending the Pharisees and all traditional Jews. In a nutshell: what you do to obey God is much more valued than your status in life or your proud declarations. To ram the point home, Jesus chose as his hero a representative of the most hated people group in the land. In today’s society, his ‘hero’ would probably be a paedophile – if you want to understand the scale of the offense caused then!
Martha and Mary: two sisters like chalk and cheese, and both great friends of Jesus. Martha had an ethic of hard work, continuing acts of service, and an unbending faith. Mary ignored the call of domesticity and sought out Jesus’ company – like a moth to a light. Annoyingly, for Christian women the world over, Jesus sided with Mary in this situation: “…few things are needed – really only one” (v42). To spend time in His presence is regarded as better than all the hard work and faithful service that a person can give. (And I don’t really want to undermine that thought by pointing out that today we can do both and that obedience is also a valid form of love for God.) “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” – how very annoying!
DEUTERONOMY 1 and 2
A new month, a new book of the Bible! If God was a filmmaker, he would have continued the excitement and anticipation at the end of Numbers by cutting straight to the crossing of the Jordan and the capture of Jericho, thus maintaining a momentum to the tale, and keeping the viewers on the edge of their seats. All that drama is found in the Book of Joshua, of course. Instead, we have a ‘repeat’ called ‘Deuteronomy’, in which Moses recaps the journey they have travelled so far, restates the laws that they have been given and re-emphasises the primary importance of following and obeying the Lord their God. Remembering is so important!
In contrast to Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, it is written with a greater passion and is more personal – coming very obviously as a partial autobiography of Moses. It takes up the story at Mount Horeb (Sinai) and ends where Israel sat that day, on the East bank of the Jordan. “See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers – to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and to their descendants after them” (Deuteronomy 1:8).
It reminds me of a similar encouragement from Jesus to his disciples in Act 1:8 and is spoken in the same positive voice. It is wrong and dangerous not to enter the inheritance that God has given us – and our inheritance is the safest place for us to be, too!
Moses reminds Israel how and why he appointed judges and leaders over the tribes – under his delegated authority – to administer God’s justice and to keep order. The burden of looking after the individual needs of the entire nation was beyond Moses the man. Similarly, in today’s church, pastoral care and discipleship have to be delegated if they are to be effective and if leadership is to avoid rapid burn-out; not everyone can have the individual attention of the leaders all the time.
We now learn that the idea of sending out the twelve spies into Canaan – forty years previously – was initially from the Israelites, rather than from God or Moses. God agreed for them to do it, but it was probably a stalling move on the part of the people, to avoid acting in faith and obedience, a possibly born of fear. In the end, they heard what they wanted to hear and saw what they wanted to see. But seeing with faith is like having X-ray vision! The result of Israel’s fear and rebellion was to elongate their journey from Horeb to Canaan from 11 days (1:2) to 38 years. In their fear, they even believed that “the Lord hates us” – an amazing conclusion – and so they dug in their heels. God was angry and swore to fulfil his promise to Israel, but that this generation would not be part of that Israel. Moses himself was so angered that he sinned against God, disqualifying himself also from the Promised Land, and proving that man’s anger does not progress God’s Kingdom (James 1:20). Are you a person who is controlled by your anger?
In Deuteronomy, Moses was saying all this to the children of those who rebelled, of course; the rebels themselves were long dead. But the identification between generations in God’s view was seamless and therefore this new generation had to know all about it, to avoid making the mistakes that their fathers made. If we don’t learn the lessons from mistakes made by Israel and in church history, it is likely that we will start to repeat them. A historical and biblical perspective on the Christian faith is something that is mostly lacking in our younger generation of believers, and we must work hard to remedy that, or continue to grow one-dimensional Christians! (See also 1 Corinthians 10:6,11.)
Chapter 2 ‘fast-forwards’ 38 years and reminds them that they had just bypassed the territories of Edom, Moab, and the Ammonites – all distant relatives of Abraham and Lot – since God had specifically not given their lands to Israel. Furthermore, they were to ‘pay their way’ and not expect any handouts from those other nations. It is wrong and dangerous for us to take those things that God has not given us and, really, Commandment Number Ten covers this point completely.
But God had given the Amorite lands to Israel, and he did this by hardening the heart of Sihon, their king, to cause him to attack Israel, despite their peaceful actions towards the Amorites. This is a graphic example of the Lord’s sovereignty at work – where the determinate will of God moves sometimes in the opposite direction to his revealed will. Sihon’s heart was made stubborn and obstinate, so that he would attack Israel, regardless of their overtures of peace, and as a result, the Amorites were completely destroyed as a nation, and their lands annexed for the Transjordan tribes. God was therefore also at work as Israel’s powerful ally in battle.
From then on, the Lord put the terror and fear of Israel into the hearts of all the nations in and around Canaan; it is impossible to function effectively in a climate of fear and to do your normal work – therefore we must make sure that we eradicate fear in our own lives and learn to trust the Lord for our success and protection.